Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Making NZ more accessible to disabled people could make average Kiwi $500 a year better off

Disabled dancer Rodney Bell has overcome barriers to work; 14,000 more could join him if laws were changed, a study says. Photo/Jason Oxenham
Disabled dancer Rodney Bell has overcome barriers to work; 14,000 more could join him if laws were changed, a study says. Photo/Jason Oxenham

Making New Zealand more accessible to people with disabilities could boost average Kiwi incomes by about $500 a year, a new group says.

The Access Alliance, a group of nine disability advocacy agencies, says a law requiring accessibility could enable 14,000 more disabled people to work, save taxpayers $270 million in welfare benefits, and boost economic output by at least $2.3 billion, or about $500 a year for every Kiwi.

The alliance wants all political parties to support an "Accessibility for New Zealanders Act" to set access standards for customer service, employment, information and communications, public transport and public spaces.

Project manager Dianne Rogers, the Blind Foundation's policy and advocacy manager, said thousands of people with disabilities wanted to work but could not because of simple obstacles such as touch-screen door access barring blind people, or lack of disabled toilets.

"We have tertiary-educated disabled people who can't even get in the door," Rogers said.

"These guys are amazing once they get in the door. Their absenteeism is a lot lower, their commitment is a lot higher."

A study for the alliance by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) has found that 14,000 more disabled people could get work if the unemployment rate for New Zealand's 1.1m people with disabilities was reduced from its 2013 census rate of 9.2 per cent to the national average of 6.1 per cent.

That change alone would boost national output by $1.45b a year.

The study found that output could be boosted by a further $862m a year if the average productivity of people with disabilities could be lifted by 2 per cent through raising their educational achievements to the national average.

The total of $2.3b a year would represent $485 a year extra for every New Zealander, a figure the study indicates would be even higher after allowing for increased tourism by disabled people who faced barriers accessing many tourist attractions.

"Accessible tourism is a competitive market," the study says.

"People with disabilities have a choice of destinations. The relative accessibility of accommodation, the urban environment, transport options, tours and attractions will be factors in their travel choices."

NZIER economist Todd Krieble said the study had not yet calculated the other side of the ledger; the costs of modifying workplaces, public transport and even websites to make them accessible.

"That is the next phase of the work," Krieble said.

Rogers said the alliance wanted a new law to require accessibility during a 10-year period so that it could be incorporated into the normal business cycle of upgrading buildings, equipment and websites.

"Our dream is that by 2030 it's fully implemented," she said.

One estimate was that it would cost an average of $900 to modify a workplace to suit a disabled person.

"Hopefully there is a lift in the building, they have to have a disabled toilet, it could be the ergonomic set-up of the desk, making sure they have the right equipment," she said.

She said the alliance wanted the law to apply to every business employing at least 20 people.

She called for bus stop announcements on buses for blind people, accessible restaurants for wheelchair users, and designing websites without devices inserted to ensure that users were not robots. Such devices actually shut out blind people who could not read non-standard script.

The alliance comprises Auckland Disability Law, the Blind Foundation, CCS Disability Action, Deaf Aotearoa, the Disabled Persons Assembly, Inclusive NZ, Kapo Maori Aotearoa, Parents of Vision Impaired New Zealanders and People First.

It is open for other organisations to join.

- NZ Herald

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